The Stark Inequality of Climate Change

This New Yorker article discusses climate change and environmental justice.

As Hurricane Florence moved across the Atlantic in early September of 2018, state officials issued evacuation orders for communities along the Virginia and Carolina coasts. The writer and law professor Jedediah Purdy, who was teaching at Duke at the time, was situated well inland, where the Atlantic coastal plain meets the Piedmont, and in his new book, “This Land Is Our Land,” he writes about his own surge of disaster preparation. Stocking up on canned goods and candles, he was also cataloguing his dependencies, contemplating how his household might get along without stocked shops and available gasoline. Could he make a cup of coffee if the electricity went out or remember loved ones’ phone numbers without the use of a smartphone? Human beings, at least we modern ones, are “an infrastructure species,” he writes, dependent on elaborate systems for shelter, electricity, and water. Purdy contemplates the potential devastation—the friendliest, nearest-term end of the the disaster-scenario spectrum laid out by David Wallace-Wells in “The Uninhabitable Earth,” but still no picnic—and thinks of the fate of what King Lear calls “unaccommodated man,” defenseless and soggy, “like an oyster ripped from its shell.”

The accelerating climate crisis is a Rorschach test, with everyone responding differently to the inkblot of planetary trauma. Hard deniers (a shrinking group) believe, or convince themselves, that established science is not real; softer deniers may understand the problem on some osmotic level but choose not to engage. Others react with outrage, terror, or gallows humor, or settle in somewhere on the spectrum between anxious resignation and outright nihilism. Some get to work securing a bunker and a disaster-preparedness plan, wishing to insulate at least their own homes and families from the wider risk. Others metabolize their anxiety into demonstrations, like the marchers who filled streets around the world in September’s global climate strike, or into direct-action protest, like the two women, indicted last month, who are now facing decades in prison for sabotaging the Dakota Access Pipeline’s progress in Iowa. (They are awaiting trial.) Purdy’s response, a scholarly kind of action, is to break down the politics that created the climate crisis, identifying the extractive practices and competitive ways of thinking that brought on the Anthropocene and imagining a system that could help us get out of it.

Comments are closed.